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S. G. Browne
Lucky Bastard

Gallery Books / Simon & Schuster
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-1-451-65719-7
Publication Date: 04-17-2012
358 Pages; $23
Date Reviewed: 05-03-2012
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2012

Index:  Mystery  Fantasy   General Fiction

It's been a bad day for Nick Monday — and he's luck poacher, a man who trades in luck, as well as a private detective. Now, as it all comes crashing down, he has a story to tell. Monday may or may not be the 'Lucky Bastard' in S. G. Browne's new novel, but anyone who picks up the book has certainly hit on a winner. Browne's engaging mystery is funny, inventive, and a terrific page-turning experience that any reader will feel lucky to have discovered. For all the mayhem, wicked humor and propulsive plotting, it's the genuine sense of heart that makes 'Lucky Bastard' feel like a jackpot. It's one thing to win; it's quite another to care.

Devil-may-care will probably seem more appropriate when you start the novel. Nick Monday, we are told, is the latest in a long family line of luck poachers, men and women who have the genetic ability to steal your luck — good or bad — with a handshake. Running a private instigation firm in San Francisco is the perfect cover / fill-in for his luck-poaching activities, which are more than lucrative enough to pay the rent. Browne has worked out a wonderful economy of luck, which he spins with just enough panache to seem believable. Good luck sells for a bundle, comes in all grades, and be lifted from folks like Tiger Woods with a handshake — then resold to those who want to shore up their lives. Monday's day begins with an offer he can't refuse from the local crime lord, followed lunch with a femme fatale. His already complicated life suddenly becomes more dangerous than he'd like, but perfectly entertaining for readers.

The real attraction here is Browne's prose voice, a snarky first-person monologue that is utterly entertaining, whether he's crushing PI clichés or musing on the permutations of his invented luck economy. Browne has a superbly dry approach that is remarkably, dangerously easy to read. It's also easy to underestimate how much this narration lets him get under our skin. We have so much fun listening to Nick Monday tell his story that we don't realize just how charming the character is. He's constantly trying to be ruthless, but fails at every important point. Browne complicates the plot and character with seamlessly enjoyable ease.

The sort-of supernatural aspects of the luck economy are well-imagined and bolstered by entertaining info-dumps about real-life recipients of unusually good luck. The mystery at the heart of the novel, which involves femme fatales, stolen luck, the local mafia and the federal government, unravels just as easily as Monday's day. The humor is actually funny, while the mayhem is threatening enough to keep us tense, but not overwhelming. Browne has worked this sort of territory in his previous novels, but here he really hits his stride in terms of pacing, plot and character.

What Browne does best here is to give us in Nick Monday a character who wants to be more hard-boiled than he finds possible. The lives of luck poachers are by necessity isolated lives. But isolation is hard to pull off. In Nick Monday, we find a man who would like to be hard enough to be unrespectable, but when he has the chances, he just can't turn away from his feelings. In those decisions, Nick Monday, S. G. Browne and 'Lucky Bastard' earn our respect. When he's run out of luck, when he's standing on the roof of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel with a naked woman pointing a knife at his heart — it makes all the difference that we know he has one.

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